Things were going to change this season for the Magic. It did not take a genius to figure that out with Stan Van Gundy departing as head coach and Dwight Howard departing as the team's star.
In the five years those two were together the strategy for the Magic was simple. Either dump the ball into Dwight Howard to get a dunk or easy basket or have him collapse the defense and dish back out to the perimeter for a 3-pointer or a driving lane as the defense rotated back out.
This offense from Van Gundy sought to maximize efficiency by having the Magic take the two most efficient shots — layups and 3-pointers. Mid-range jumpers were not a premium in that offense.
Partially because of the roster he had and partially because he was trying to implement his own offensive system, the Magic went away from this strategy. They no longer had the sure-fire low-post threat and they no longer had the same number of pure 3-point shooters. Offense would have to be created a new way.
There were a healthy amount of pick and rolls, but also a lot more isolation plays. Glen Davis was involved in isolations for 7.5 percent of his shots and in post ups for 29.1 percent of his shots. Jameer Nelson had 13.1 percent of his shots come from isolations and 46.2 percent come in pick and rolls. Without a clear go-to scoring option, the Magic had to rely on players, perhaps forcing shots to get good looks.
It should come as no surprise, especially considering how much the Magic struggled offensively this year, that several Magic players were forced into difficult, low efficiency shots. And the number bear that out.
Ian Levy of Hickory High compiled a list of players who had the lowest expected points per shot, a metric Levy created to measure the efficiency of shots players take on the floor.
According to Levy, Ish Smith had the 10th worst expected points per shot (0.985 XPPS) among players with less than a 19 percent usage rate, E'Twaun Moore had the 10th worst (0.974 XPPS), Beno Udrih had the fifth worst (0.962 XPPS) and Andrew Nicholson had the fourth worst expected points per shot (0.954 XPPS) among players with a usage rate between 19 and 24 percent and Glen Davis had the 10th worst expected points per shot (0.993 XPS) among players with a usage rate of more than 24 percent.
The Magic are not the only team with multiple players on this list, but it should be especially noted that three key players with usage rates between 19 and 24 percent are on this list on the wrong side of the ledger. To see all these players, particularly the role players, shows that the Magic were not getting high-efficiency shots.
This does not mean that they did not make those shots, even if their expected points per shot were very low. Levy notes in a separate graph that several players can get away with taking these low-efficiency shots because they know their role and take advantage of them.
Andrew Nicholson, for instance, posted an actual points per shot of 1.113, a difference of 0.159 over his expected points per shot. Levy told me it would be real interesting if Nicholson could extend his range to the 3-point line, but right now he understands that his role is to score the ball in the post when he gets there or pick and pop for a spot-up jumper.
Nicholson took 28.8 percent of his shots on post ups and 19.7 percent in spot-ups. He scored 0.85 points per possession on post ups and 1.01 points per possession on spot ups. He was pretty efficient on those shots.
Including Nicholson on this end of the list may be a little unfair. He actually had a really solid rookie season and proved himself to be a reliable perimeter threat, both spotting up and as the screener in the pick-and-roll. Although his shot-selection looks terrible, with 45% of his shot attempts coming on long two-pointers, he drastically over performed the expected value of his shots and finished the year shooting 43.8% on those long twos. Although his XPPS puts him in the bottom ten, his actual points per shot were higher than Tyler Hansbrough’s, who ranked in the top ten in XPPS. He has the potential to be a supremely better version of Brandon Bass, but if he really wants to push the bounds of his efficiency it would be worth it for him to work on stretching his range out past the three point line.
Beno Udrih also beat the expectations, scoring more points per shot than was expected.
Showing how mismatched Glen Davis was to his role, perhaps, Davis was one of only two players in the bottom 10 of high usage players to underperform his expected points per shot. The other was Michael Beasley. Not great company.
As the Magic continue this rebuild and get the pieces they need to begin contending again, we will see exactly what Jacque Vaughn's offensive philosophy is. Right now, the Magic are taking a lot of low efficiency, mid-range jumpers. It is too hard to tell whether the Magic are forced to do that or whether it is by design.
Watching what the Magic do with their offense in the coming years will be an intriguing part of the Magic's rebuild and development.